Schult Trailers Inc. - 1933-1957 - Schult Homes - 1957-present - Elkhart, Indiana
|Known bus and truck body builder
from the 1930s-40s.
During WWII they built a number of War Worker trailers, semi-trailer buses pulled by a tractor cab and chassis. Shult and Fruehauf also built similar trailers for Detroit and Chicago-area businesses engaged in war work. Some were converted from existing new car carriers, others were built from scratch.
(pp90-91 - Woods - American Buses)
1938 Continental Clipper built by Walter Wells and Wilbur
Schult of Schult Trailers
Schult also built the trailers for the famed 1947 Gatti-Hallicrafters African Expedition.
“New York -- (INS) -- Famed Explorer Commander Attilio Gatti left Saturday on one of the most elaborate African expeditions of all time. It will be in constant radio contact with the United States, and gather scientific data including, possibly, information on a beast bigger than the largest gorilla.
“The expedition, sponsored by the Hallicrafters Co. of Chicago, makers of electronic equipment, will make a six-month tour of the interior of British East Africa. Its goal is the fabled Mountains of the Moon region in Uganda.“Gatti has said that one of the expedition’s most important jobs will be to track down and if possible photograph a beast called “Mulahu” by the Mambuti pygmies. These pygmies are the only inhabitants of the jungles surrounding 16,798 foot Ruwenzori mountains.
“The animal is said to be a “fifth anthropoid,” larger than a gorilla, chimpanzee, orangutan or gibbon, and is regarded with awe and terror by the pygmies.
“Gatti is convinced that such an animal exists, from information he has received on previous African explorations.
“No white man, however, has seen it.”
All the radio equipment had been installed in the “Shack on Wheels”, a big Schult house trailer that was in New York awaiting shipment. We were to get our first glimpse of it at the International Harvester showroom in the big city. The “radio shack” trailer was apparently on display there because Harvester furnished all the trucks for the expedition, and Schult had donated three deluxe house trailers, two for the Gattis and one for the combination photo lab and radio shack. Bob and I agreed, Commander Gatti was a grand master of promotion.
We quickly toured our combination “Rolling (photo) Lab” and ham “Shack on Wheels” trailer for the African continent; it was first rate. Gatti had done an excellent job of design, and all the eight trucks and eight trailers were painted colors that would photograph well. I taped on my crude signs telling of the usage of the trailers.
The Gatti’s two luxurious living trailers were also on display. Gatti’s was a combination office and sleeping trailer, Mrs. Gatti’s was a dining and sleeping arrangement.
All three of the large Schult trailers were equipped with a refrigerator. The “Shack’s” fridge was primarily used for making ice cubes to cool photo chemical solutions, while the two Gatti trailers “ice-a box” were to cool the cocktail hour drinks and keep the butter hard.
In return for the vehicles, Gatti taped a number of promotional films for Hallicrafters, one for Schult Trailers, and one for International Harvester.
WILBUR SCHULT Industry Leadership Through Acquisition
After several weeks, he finally made his first sale and his dream was underway. Unfortunately, the check that he had accepted for the unit bounced, and he now had only $25 of his mother’s loan left and no inventory. With the totally naïve faith of youth, he returned to Mt. Clemons in hopes of acquiring a second unit on consignment. Amazingly, he was able to get a second unit and towed it back home to start again. This time he had better luck, the trailer sold quickly and his business was off and running. Shortly, he also became a dealer for Milo Miller’s Sportsman brand trailers made in Mishawaka, Indiana.
With enthusiasm fuelled by his opinion of his rapid success in the trailer retail business, (he sold a total of 138 units the first year), in late 1934, he contracted to be the national distributor for the growing Sportsman brand trailers. That growing manufacturing operation moved from its original shed in Mishawaka to a small 3 or 4-car garage sized facility in Elkhart. By this time the burgeoning Schult retail sales business had moved from the street front location to a large lot on the city’s near eastside. His business quickly became national in scope and he advertised monthly in both Billboard and Variety magazines to attract vaudeville and carnival workers as customers. In January of 1936, Sportsman trailers moved again into one of the largest buildings in Elkhart to have space to keep up with production orders. In March of 1936, Milo Miller sold his manufacturing concern to his national distributor Wilbur Schult and the Schult Trailer Company was added to the Schult Trailer Mart.
Wilbur Schult immediately took off to make his mark on the new industry. He began a strategy of explosive growth and acquisition unequalled in industry history. He discontinued his retail agreement with Covered Wagon, at that time the largest company in the industry, and began rapidly recruiting dealers of his own. By April of 1937, Schult had 2 plants in Elkhart with over 250,000 combined square feet of manufacturing space and had created a division in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. He had acquired the Pathfinder Trailer facility in Elkhart and was already recognized as having the largest production capacity of any company in the industry. He produced over 1500 trailers in 1937. He continued his dramatic growth acquiring the Royal Wilhelm Company, manufacturers of Royal Coach in Sturgis, Michigan, and opened a division in Christchurch, New Zealand making him perhaps the first manufacturer producing units in three countries and on two continents. He also had developed a licensed distributor agency in Sweden.
Beginning in 1938, Schult’s father William, now the corporate secretary-treasurer of his son’s company (which he had thought was sheer folly only 18 months before) was also a designated roving ambassador visiting all TCT and ATA events and rallies as well as other major festivals to represent the company.
By the start of 1939, Schult Trailers, Inc. was recognized as having supplanted Covered Wagon as the largest company in the industry. Wilbur Schult quickly became very active in the infant Trailer Coach Manufacturers Association (the early predecessor to RVIA) and was elected its national chairman in 1940. A firm believer in promotional events, he became the National Trailer Show Director and held that position for 14 years.
While making such dramatic inroads into the industry’s production capacity, Schult also produced many industry innovations. He was the first manufacturer to extend his units standard width from 7 1/2 to a full 8 feet and the first to offer 7’ foot ceilings. He was the first manufacturer to build a full steel frame under his entry level products. He designed and installed an optional full trailer "air conditioning system" which circulated air over a vault of ice to cool the trailer. In 1938, he built a luxurious custom 40 foot fifth-wheel rig including the customized towing vehicle for New England publisher Myron Zobel. The "Continental Clipper" included a stainless steel kitchen, a radio-telephone, and a flying bridge where the Zobels could ride behind the chauffeur driven tow vehicle. This unit became so well recognized that Mr. Zobel was able to sell it after 7 or 8 years of use to King Farouk of Egypt.
Schult was the first RV manufacturer to demonstrate that you could build a company into industry prominence by acquisition of competing companies as well as direct growth; a model that continues to be followed, 70 years later, by the industry leaders today.
Schult’s business continued its dramatic growth through the years of WWII by totally converting his operation to defense production needs. He built specialty trailers for transporting the huge paratrooper gliders from point to point, he converted Ford sedans into wooden bodied military ambulances, and he built busses to transport personnel including POW transport vehicles and special "dead transport" busses designed to respectfully carry the bodies of soldiers killed in battle to the rear lines. His Elkhart operation alone kept over 600 people employed in three shifts, around the clock, during the war.
In the 1950s, the Schult Trailer Company evolved into the Schult Mobile Home Company and turned its attention completely to the manufactured housing side of the now separating industries. Schult sold his interest in the company in 1957 and continued to serve the industry through association work and other ventures. The company continues today as Schult Homes the oldest company in the housing industry.
For his many contributions to the growth and development of the entire industry, Wilbur Schult was inducted into the RV/MH Hall of Fame as a member of its original class in 1972.
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